National Park Service

views updated May 08 2018

National Park Service

The U.S. Congress created the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916 as a bureau of the Department of the Interior. Its purpose was to coordinate the administration for an increasing number of national parks. NPS objectives have evolved to include (1) preserving the natural and cultural resources and values of the parks, and (2) providing for public enjoyment of these areas while leaving them unimpaired.

The diverse areas managed by the NPSemploying such professionals as foresters, naturalists, engineers, biologists, historians, geologists, archaeologists, rangers, and guidesare collectively known as the National Park System. As of 2002 it encompassed 384 areas, totaling about 33.8 million hectares (83.6 million acres) in 49 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

Activities, Services, and Administration

The NPS engages in such activities as control of water pollution ; fire prevention and control; wildlife conservation ; and protection of natural, historic, or prehistoric features. In addition, it provides public services such as lectures, guided tours, and informational programs.

The National Park Service administers over twenty types of areas that are categorized as natural, historical and cultural, and recreational. Areas dedicated to the preservation of natural features include national parks, rivers, preserves, and many of the monuments. Areas preserved for historic and cultural purposes include national monuments, military parks, battlefields, historical parks, and historic sites. Recreational areas include national seashores and lakeshores, and national recreation areas.

The administration of natural resources includes the preservation of:

  • Physical resources, such as water, soil, air, topographic and geologic features, and paleontological resources;
  • Physical processes, such as weather, erosion, cave formations, and wildland fires;
  • Biological resources, such as native animals, plants, and communities;
  • Biological processes, such as photosynthesis , ecosystem succession, and evolution;
  • Ecosystems ; and
  • Highly valued associated characteristics, such as scenic views.

Water Resources

As part of its administration, the NPS maintains the quality of its surface waters and groundwaters because they are critical components of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Any pollution incidents from point sources and nonpoint sources are quickly resolved, knowing that such pollutants reduce visitor appeal to park waters. NPS regularly works with various government bodies in order to maintain or restore water quality as laid out under the federal Clean Water Act and other applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Oftentimes, it is activities that take place outside park boundaries that have profound effects on the Service's ability to protect natural resources inside parks.

In order to maintain the high standard of the park's natural resources many water-related systems are important: for example, floodplains, wetlands , watershed (drainage basin) and stream processes, and shorelines and barrier islands.

Floodplains and Wetlands.

The NPS is committed to protect, preserve, and restore the functions of floodplains. It manages wetlands in order to prevent destruction, loss, or degradation in compliance with NPS mandates and the requirements of Executive Order 11990 (Wetland Protection), the Clean Water Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, among others.

Watershed and Stream Processes.

The NPS manages watersheds as complete hydrologic systems, and minimizes human disturbance to the natural upland processes that deliver water, sediment, and debris to streams. These processes include runoff, erosion, and disturbance to vegetation and soil caused by fire, insects, weather events, and mass movements of earth materials. The NPS manages streams to protect processes that create habitat features such as floodplains, riparian systems, and natural pools.

Shorelines and Barrier Islands.

On NPS properties, natural shoreline processes such as erosion, dune formation, and inlet formation are allowed to evolve without interference. Where human activities or structures have altered the nature or rate of natural processes, the NPS investigates alternatives for mitigating the effects of such activities or structures and for restoring natural conditions.*

The National Park Service is an important partner in water management, especially given its responsibilities for many of the country's most precious wilderness areas. Water and aquatic resources are valued as an important natural resource in the NPS's planning and management activities. Scientists and resource managers are increasingly called upon to address disruptions of water resources that threaten the quality of life and environmental sustainability in U.S. national parks.

see also Beaches; Clean Water Act; Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.; Floodplain Management; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Pollution Sources: Point and Nonpoint; Wetlands.

William Arthur Atkins

Brandon, Katrina et al. Parks in Peril: People, Politics, and Protected Areas. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

Buccino, Sharon et al. Reclaiming Our Heritage: What We Need To Do To Preserve America's National Parks. Washington, D.C.: Natural Resources Defense Council Press, 1997.

Internet Resources

2001 NPS Management Policies, Chapter 4: Natural Resource Management. National Park Service. <>.

History of the National Park Service. National Park Service. <>.

National Park Service: ParkNet. <>.

National Park Service, Water Resources Division. <>.

Water Management: Everglades National Park. National Park Service. <>.


The largest National Park Service area is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, containing 5.3 million hectares (13.2 million acres), or 16.3 percent of the entire National Park System. The smallest unit is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania, with 0.008 of a hectare (0.020 of an acre).


In 1972, exactly 100 years after the first national park was created, the U.S. Congress made a similar commitment to protecting selected marine areas by establishing the National Marine Sanctuary Program. Since then, thirteen sanctuaries have been designated, representing a variety of ocean environments and one Great Lakes (fresh-water) area. The National Marine Sanctuary Program is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Marine sanctuaries encompass deep ocean gardens, nearshore coral reefs, whale migration corridors, deep-sea canyons, and even underwater archaeological sites. They range in size from about 65 hectares (160 acres or 0.25 square mile) in Fagatele Bay, American Samoa, to roughly 1.37 million hectares (about 3.39 million acres or 5,300 square miles) in Monterey Bay, California, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. For more information, see <>.

* See "Coastal Ocean" for a photograph of a newly formed barrier island.

National Park Service

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Park Service

The National Park Service, an agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior , was established by the National Park Service Act of 1916 making it the first such agency in the world. Its mission as stated in the Act is: "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

The mission has not changed over the years but the ambiguous wording of the act has sparked much debate over what the primary use of a national park should be. Some people feel the parks should be commercially developed in order to best "provide for the enjoyment" of the resources, whereas others think the highest priority should be preserving the resources in an "unimpaired" state for future generations . These conflicting views have existed ever since the agency was established, and the debate will likely continue. The dual mandate of providing enjoyment from the resources and leaving them unchanged has been called the "preservation/use paradox." Striking the balance between use and preservation is still at the forefront of current national park policy issues.

National parks existed in the United States prior to the establishment of the National Park Service. The Yosemite Grant of 1864 was the first act that formally set aside land by the federal government for "public use, resort and recreation." Twenty square miles (52 km2)of land in the Yosemite valley and 4 mi2 (10 km2) of giant sequoia were put under the care of the State of California by President Abraham Lincoln. This land was to be held "inalienable for all time." In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the establishment of Yellowstone National Park . Yellowstone differed from Yosemite in that it was to be managed and controlled by the federal government, not the state, and therefore has received the honor of being considered the first national park. Years later, Yosemite was also turned over to the federal government for management.

Originally no money had been set aside for the protection and care of the national parks. The parks suffered from illegal timber harvesting, grazing, poaching , and vandalism. The U.S. Cavalry was sent in to protect the lands and did so until 1916 when the National Park Service was formed.

Horace Albright was named Assistant for Parks in 1913 by the Secretary of Interior Franklin Lane. Albright, in turn, recruited self-made millionaire and nature lover Stephen Mather to help him establish an agency to manage the parks. All the parks thus far had been created through separate acts of Congress with no unified guidelines to manage and control them. Bills to form an agency to oversee the parks had been introduced to Congress, but none had yet passed. Through the intensive lobbying efforts of Albright, Mather, and others, the National Park Service was formed in 1916. Upon its creation the National Park Service took over the management of 14 national parks and 21 national monuments. Mather was the named the agency's first Director and Albright became his assistant. Later Albright would become the second Director of the National Park Service.

Albright and Mather believed that if the park system was to successfully defend itself from attacks by individuals with utilitarian philosophies (i.e., those believing timber cutting, grazing, and mining should be allowed on federal lands) it would have to have a strong base of public support. They emphasized a tourism effort to "See America First" and embarked on a policy of development and expansion to include tennis courts, golf courses , and swimming pools. As the automobile became popular they encouraged visitation by car and tried to make the parks easily accessible. Through their efforts park use soared.

Although public support was strong, lands still had to be deemed worthless for agriculture or economic development to be set aside as parks by Congress. Therefore, parks typically were high altitude with steep rocky terrain. Also, because they were still being justified and preserved as tourist destinations, only those areas of spectacular scenery were included within the park boundaries. This has resulted in many management problems, as today park managers attempt to look after park resources that are a part of ecosystems which extend beyond the park boundaries.

The number of visitors to the parks increased so greatly that by the 1920s the limited facilities could no longer keep up with the growing demand. Overcrowding and pollution were becoming problems. Conservationists complained that tourism was given priority over preservation and that the parks were being degraded. Lodges and other amenities continued to be added to the parks to handle the increased visitation.

Until the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1934, all of the national parks had been designated from land that was already under federal government control. The Everglades was the first park taken from annexed private land. It was also the first park that was not preserved for its spectacular scenery. Rather it was primarily established to preserve its fragile ecosystem , especially its colorful and conspicuous wildlife . Shortly thereafter, the Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks were established. These were developed from private lands that were purchased using donations from private citizens, including John D. Rockefeller.

With the growing environmental awareness of the 1970s increased public scrutiny was focused on the balance between providing an enjoyable experience for visitors while preserving the park resources. The National Park Service looked for ways to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors while minimizing the impacts to the environment . For example, to cut down on pollution and congestion, shuttle buses now take visitors into the Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Denali national parks. The National Park Service continues to seek creative ways to simultaneously achieve their dual missions of use and preservation.

The National Park Service administers 386 sites covering 80 million acres (32.4 million ha) in 49 states. Fifty of these sites are national parks, sometimes referred to as the "crown jewels" of the United States. The largest of the parks is Wrangell-St. Elias covering 13.2 million acres (5.3 million ha) in Alaska. In 1989 use at National Park Service facilities was measured at 114 million visitor days. The most visited national park is Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

In addition to the national parks, the National Park Service also administers 79 National Monuments, 69 National Historic Sites, and 29 National Historic Parks. They manage sites in 22 different categories including wild and scenic rivers, seashores, lakeshores, scenic trails, parkways, preserves, and even the White House. Each of the sites are placed into one of these categories based on such attributes as size, level of development, and significance. They are managed under policies appropriate for that type of site. For example, a national preserve is typically set aside to protect a particular resource. Hunting , fishing, mining, or extraction of fuels can be allowed on the preserve so long as it does not threaten the specific resource being preserved.

Each year millions of people from around the world come to the National Parks to recreate, to learn, and to be inspired in these wondrous places. Truly, the National Park Service is the caretaker of America's "crown jewels."

[Ted T. Cable ]



Albright, Horace M., and Marian Albright Schenck. Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Runte, A. National Parks and American Experience. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.


National Parks Service. [June 2002]. <>.

National Park Service

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Park Service

Established in 1916 under the National Park Service Organic Act, the National Park Service (NPS) manages over 83.6 millions acres of federal parks, including battlefields, cemeteries, historical sites, lakeshores, memorials, monuments, parkways, preserves, recreation areas, rivers, seashores, and trails. The NPS is supervised by both a director and the assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, and serves as a Department of the Interior bureau funded by Congress. As its primary mission, the NPS is charged with the preservation of park lands for the enjoyment and education of current and future generations, incorporating measures such as pollution control to foster this preservation. The NPS advances its mission by serving as an environmental advocate of park lands, funding state and local governmental bodies in their efforts to develop park areas, and sponsoring educational activities to increase public awareness about parks. In addition, the NPS works in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce laws (e.g., Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and Wilderness Act) intended to protect and preserve park lands. Comparable agencies in Argentina, Australia, and Germany have adopted some of the same strategies as the NPS.

see also Environmental Protection Agency.


Freemuth, John C. (1991). Islands under Siege: National Parks and the Politics of External Threats. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

internet resource

National Park Service Web site. Available from

Robert F. Gruenig

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